Yanks Crush New Zealand 5-0 as Morgan Scores Twice
September 20, 2017
IN THE SECOND of two September friendlies, the United States women’s national team defeated New Zealand 5-0 on Tuesday evening in Cincinnati.
The Americans jumped to a two-goal lead in the first half with Lindsey Horan and Mallory Pugh finding the back of the net. In the second stanza, Alex Morgan tallied twice and Lynn Williams added another to round out the scoring.
Here are three thoughts from the game.
A DYNAMIC ATTACK
Frequently over the past few years, even when playing against second-tier opponents, the U.S. offense has appeared stagnant and bereft of ideas. However, for the past three matches—two against New Zealand and one against a young Japanese side in early August—the American attack has displayed a fluidity not seen often in recent memory.
The key to the offensive outbreak has been the inclusion of Julie Ertz in the starting XI. As the team’s No. 6, Ertz has brought a new energy to the team, breaking up opponents' attacks on the defensive end of the field and providing a much-needed boost on the offensive end as well.
On Tuesday, Ertz’ work rate again proved to be a game-changer. Her positioning as the team’s defensive midfielder freed up her central midfield counterparts and the U.S.’ outside backs to join the attack at will and the Americans ran roughshod over the New Zealand from start to finish.
LINDSEY HORAN, SUPER SUB
Lindsey Horan didn’t get the start on Tuesday, as head coach Jill Ellis instead gave a run out to Cincinnati native Rose Lavelle in front of her hometown fans. However, Lavelle—still not fully fit after a long stint out with a hamstring injury—came out in the 33rd minute when Horan entered the match.
Horan didn’t take long to make her mark, tallying two minutes after stepping onto the pitch and picking up an assist less than 10 minutes later. While her influence was more obvious on Tuesday night, Horan has a subtle quality in the midfield that often gets overlooked.
A forward as a youth player, she developed a composure with her back to pressure missing in many U.S. players and, now as a midfielder, she links the American attack out of the back with her ability to hold the ball in traffic and work it out under pressure.
Assuming the U.S. stays in a 4-3-3 going forward, the competition for midfield spots will be tough with Ertz, Sam Mewis, Allie Long, Morgan Brian, Rose Lavelle, and Carli Lloyd in the mix. Horan seems to have fallen out of favor with Ellis since the 2016 Olympics and has benefitted of late from an increased opportunity due to the sheer number of injuries to the central midfield pool.
Hopefully, when Ellis does have her full complement of midfielders available again, she remembers what Horan offers the U.S. in the middle of the pitch.
ALEX MORGAN ON FIRE
Over the past few years, Alex Morgan has battled a series of long-term injuries that kept her from playing at the level that made her famous in the 2011 World Cup and 2012 Olympic cycles. However, this season she has regained both fitness and form, both with her club side and the U.S. women.
On Tuesday, Morgan scored twice, the first just one minute after entering the match at the half. Then, 20 minutes later, Morgan hit a jaw-dropping half-volley for the brace.
With the U.S. midfield finally finding a workable shape and the American offense finally finding its rhythm, an in-form Morgan should be enough to put the U.S. back in a position to claim its spot as the best team in the world after some rough patches earlier in 2017.
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.